Just whom does the Narendra Modi government represent? Everybody, government supporters would say. Doesn’t Modiji talk about sabka saath, sabka vikas? Yeah, that’s the slogan, but slogans are as trustworthy as politicians themselves are. So, let’s try to find the answer elsewhere.
The Opposition is unanimous that the government represents big business; the allege that it is heavily influenced by India Inc—by “corporates,” an example of bad English but widely in use. Rahul Gandhi famously called it “suit-boot ki Sarkar” (the government of the well-heeled). In his recent intervention in Parliament, he said that “the cost of farmers’ land is rising fast, and that your corporate friends want to usurp them. On [the] one hand, you are weakening the farmer and the laborer… when he won’t be able to stand on his feet, that is when you will axe him with your Land Ordinance. That is why you are ignoring the 60 per cent.” The government has proposed amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, Rahul alleged, because it wants to please its “corporate friends.” Rahul’s verdict: “One thing is clear. Your government is ignoring the farmers. Yeh bade logon ki sarkar hai (This is a government of the high and mighty).”
But are the high and mighty of the corporate world pleased? Well, they still crib about retrospective taxation. Talking to overseas investors in Washington on April 18, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley admitted to the fact that India’s experience of the 2012 retrospective amendments to the Income Tax Act had been adverse, “but we’ve been doing our bit in restating and re-emphasizing that it was not a sensible decision. I think the dangers of that retrospective legislation and the context in which it was brought have been driven home.”
He was at his wits’ end to convince the investors that his government wanted to end arbitrariness in taxation matters, but to no avail. “Barring a case [Vodafone] that is pending under that law or another case that has arisen now, I think we’ve already put most issues to rest, as far as retrospective legislation is concerned,” Jaitley said.
After that meeting, the Finance Minister wrote an article in Financial Times of London to allay the fears of businesspersons. “Even though it is only the legacy issues that haunt us, we recognize that we must put a quick end to them. I am considering a high-level committee to explore what can be done to resolve the past, and move beyond it in a way that would provide real predictability and certainty to investors. This committee will be instructed to report back expeditiously so that early action can be taken,” Jaitley wrote.
There was also some candor: “Yet, to be frank, we have not been entirely successful in convincing investors of the fairness of our tax system.”
The failure is because of the insincerity that his government has shown in the last 11 months. Before coming to power, the Bharatiya Janata Party promised to end “tax terrorism,” retrospective taxation, arbitrariness, etc.; but it has done nothing to that effect. Instead it has only offered arguments to continue, albeit with what it considers as adequate safeguards, with the atrocious provision introduced by the previous regime. Unsurprisingly, the country is still waiting for big investment.
It’s not just businesspersons who are unhappy; farmers are no less discontented. The government wants to introduce changes in the land acquisition law on the grounds that the existing legislation is anti-development. The government’s position is that the proposed amendments would help industrialization and create jobs, and that it would be good for farmers. The economic development that is predicated upon coercion—land acquisition is by definition coercive—is as disturbing. If an industrialist wants to set up a factory, let him buy land from the farmer; why should the government intervene? Let farmers decide whether they want to continue with agriculture or to take up another profession.
While farmers are upset with the government because of the amendments to the land acquisition law, the middle classes are feeling short-changed because none of the promises made by the BJP have been redeemed, be it lower inflation, jobs, bringing back black money, better and graft-free administration, or reduction in the income tax burden.
Businessmen are frustrated, farmers are up in arms, and middle classes are cross with the Modi regime. Whose government is it anyway?
I think it represents nobody but the same Establishment that called the shots when the Congress was in office. It looked like Modi would smash the old order; he has chosen to put a saffron paint to the established order instead.